From outside the mat, Rakesh Kumar plots Haryana Steelers' success

The World Cup winner-turned-coach hopes to work closely with veteran skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan - "the coach on the mat" - to help the Steelers make amends for a forgettable season last year.

Published : Jul 22, 2019 09:38 IST , Chennai

Haryana Steelers will rely on the genius of coach Rakesh Kumar and skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan for a change in fortunes in the seventh season of the ProKabaddi League.
Haryana Steelers will rely on the genius of coach Rakesh Kumar and skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan for a change in fortunes in the seventh season of the ProKabaddi League.

Haryana Steelers will rely on the genius of coach Rakesh Kumar and skipper Dharmaraj Cheralathan for a change in fortunes in the seventh season of the ProKabaddi League.

"There is a big difference between being a coach and coaching as a player! During my playing days, I'd coach the younger players now and then, and move on. The coaching ended there. But now, it is different. It just doesn't end," Haryana Steelers coach Rakesh Kumar says with a laugh.

The laugh, he concedes, is an acceptance that his views on coaching have changed. How? During the Pro Kabaddi League season 7 auctions in April, the Arjuna awardee was a few weeks into his first full-time coaching stint and his replies to questions were breezy.

Asked about his change in role, from a senior player sharing tips to a full-time coach, he replied he did not expect any added pressure. "The only difference now is that I will be outside the court."

READ : Revamped Haryana Steelers eyes redemption

After four months of hands-on coaching, Rakesh says, "There is a difference between being a coach and a player. You have to coach the players through the three months, have them play games, get the training done. We need to extract the performances from the players while giving them the confidence to perform."

Rakesh, 37, will be up against experienced coaches but he believes each has unique strengths.

"Most coaches have way more experience, but the experience of playing on a mat is something I have because the older coaches have only played on mud. That experience will help me in my coaching career," the two-time World Cup winner says. 

He also believes that his stint as a commentator last season will come in handy. "While commentating, I also used to analyse the game tactically. I watched every game and observed almost all the players. I know players' strengths and weaknesses and will give my players all those inputs."

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Haryana Steelers, after an impressive debut campaign in season 5 that saw it qualify for the eliminators, had a forgetful outing last year, finishing bottom of its zone with the worst score difference among all teams.

An injury to captain Surender Nada saw Monu Goyat take over as the leader but the added responsibility did not help his performances. Monu could never justify the PKL-record ₹1.51 crore the team spent on him and was released after one season. Veteran Dharmaraj Cheralathan was brought in and he will lead the side's title push.

"Monu had to perform and also lead from the front, which can be a challenge for any player. There was no one to share the responsibilities with him. We made a note of that and elected Dharmaraj as our captain," says Rakesh. 

"Dharmaraj is one of the most experienced and a team player. He also controls the game. We had no one to control last year and wanted such a player. Other players respect his seniority and have been listening to him during the camp. I am sure this will continue during the matches," he added.

He also sees Dharmaraj as the "coach on the mat" during games. "I can't play anymore and that's where Dharmaraj comes in. I will tell him my ideas but he will be setting the team (on the offensive/defensive). I can tell him a little from the side but he will be the main man on the mat."

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Dharmaraj, 44, is eager to repay the confidence shown in him. "The coach and I have played together for 15 years (in the nationals), and my experience and knowledge is a big reason why they selected me. The team is full of youngsters and the target is to guide them to finals,” he says. 

Haryana Steelers begins its campaign on Monday against Puneri Paltan. Rakesh admits he is both happy and nervous.

"I am happy that I am starting a new journey, but I am also nervous because it is my first season as coach. I keep thinking if I can deliver as a coach because as a player I have always done well. So far things have gone as planned but we will find out."

On the team's objective this season, the coach and the captain are cautiously optimistic about fighting for the title.

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